So, there I am sitting, nearly alone, in the Transit Center in Laguna Hills, at 11pm, on Friday the 13th, having just come from the Opera....
Oh, hi! I know, you are sitting there, scratching your head saying...
"He went WHERE? Opera? Him? What the hell???"
Let me explain. :-D
A year, or so, ago, I reconnected with an old High School classmate, and fellow violinist in the school orchestra, on Facebook. He helps promote the performance of music, dance, and theater, in non-traditional venues in the OC, and nearby areas (more on that later), and I have been on the e-mail list, hoping to one day find an opportunity to attend.
That opportunity came Friday night.
It was founded by the husband, and wife team of Jonathan Paul Cambry (Piano), Karrah Marie Cambry (Soprano), with the goal of making Opera accessible to performers and audiences alike.
As they explained to us...
Their mission is to "perform full-length opera and oratorio in English, to convey a true sense of the composer’s intent in each piece while making relative connections with their audiences."
According to the website, the company finds young artists with exceptional talent to perform the roles.
The larger company, and smaller portions of it, tour, performing in various locations, concert-style, using simple and minimal staging to allow the music to be the main focus of attention for the audience.
Four members of the La Boheme cast performed for us, last night, an abridged version of the opera, and you can learn more about all 4 performers by looking up their names, with photo, & bio, here.
Their fundraising partner, for this west coast trip, the Free Wheelchair Mission, is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to providing wheelchairs for the impoverished disabled in developing nations.
There were 2 representatives at the performance, with an example of the wheelchair, in tow, and they explained that the decade-old group is headquartered in Irvine, Ca., and "works around the world in partnership with humanitarian, faith-based and government organizations, sending wheelchairs to hundreds of thousands of disabled people, providing not only the gift of mobility, but of dignity, independence, and hope."
A Free Will Offering was accepted from attendees of this event.
So, off to the Opera, I went, arriving at beautiful Geneva Presbyterian Church, around 645pm, and walked in the door, and into the church, looking down the aisle...
And a man looked up and smiled in recognition, calling my name.
I recognized him from Facebook...It was David. :-D
We approached each other, and embraced and before, and after, the performance, we had opportunities to chat, and remember our days butchering Classical Music on the violin, and giving our teacher Mr. Nowak (Now teaching at a school, here in the OC, I've learned), heartburn, 33-35 years ago. :-D
When most of us think about it what comes to mind is Luciano Pavarotti or Placido Domingo, and costumed people, mostly European, cavorting across the stage, amid elaborate sets, bellowing in Italian, or some other language not the Kings English.
Opera, though, is grander, and older, than you think, going back to the end of the 16th Century, when Italians, pleased with the reception given pasta recipes, created a new form of entertainment to accompany the meals.
You have your Tenor, your Soprano, your Baritone, your Bass, your Messy Soprano, your Tuna, your Falsetto, all holding forth in Oratorios, Librettos, Arias, Meowsettos (What? You've never seen the Looney Tunes & Merry Melodies, with the Cats, perched on fences all night long? The favorite Operas of my Cats, Nikita, and Elvira!), and more, most often with the script being sung, but also spoken as Dialog, and all accompanied by a musical score to up the interest, and excitement, for the audience.
Examples of Opera performances can be found all over the Internet, including in English, and 2 of the greatest of all time are my favorites.
Even when the performance is in English there is still all that bellowing, and sometimes a high note sufficient to shatter glass. :-D
Oh, and some of the great performers, of a certain tone of voice, are heavy set.
For those us who are woefully uninformed, this is Opera.
The ACO goes a long way toward educating us about how this is not always the case, how some of what you read about Opera is unadulterated baloney, that Opera in English is more common than we think, and that understanding it, following the script, and enjoying the performance, is easier than we imagined. :-D
As you can see from my examples, above, efforts to make Opera more accessable to youth, and the masses, are not new, the members of ACO are just the new kids on the block. :-D
Puccini's Opera is about a painter and a writer, who find love, despite the poverty of lower-class Paris in 1830.
Love, Romance, Jealousy, Breakups, Bad Pens, Impossible Paint Brushes, a Rowdy Christmas Party, Reconciliation, and Sad Partings, ensue. :-D
Essentially..."The central story is that of Rodolpho, a poet, and Mimi, a seamstress. They fall hopelessly in love-at-first-sight. Rodolpho leaves Mimi while she has fallen ill and their love gains complexity due to feelings of guilt. Mimi succumbs to the disease in one of the most heart-wrenching operatic finales of all time."
There was a small audience in attendance, and we settled in to enjoy the show.
Rodolfo, the poet was played by Benjamin De Los Monteros, on the right, in this photo, and Marcello, the painter, was played by Mark Jurgenson.
Mimi, the woman on the left, was played by Jessie Lyons, and Musetta was played by Karrah Cambry.
For me, as for many people, unused to the conventions of Opera, what is being said by the singers, even when sung in English, can be very hard to follow, and understand so when playbills are available, or dialogue is displayed across the bottom of a TV Screen or, as in this case, cast members step out of character to explain the gist of what the scenes they are about to perform are all about, then our ability to enjoy the goings on are greatly enhanced.
You have to develop an ear for Opera, it seems to me, thru attending a number of performances, and understanding the language is, of course, a plus in that regard.
As an aspiring writer and poet, I particularly enjoyed the way that character was portrayed when engaged in a bout of creativity, and told the actor so, after the performance.
The depiction of the painter at work was well done, as well.
The ladies played their amusing, charming, and sad roles, to great effect.
Each actor made you believe they were their particular character, and the chemistry between the cast members was particularly enjoyable.
Even though I didn't understand much of the dialogue, I gathered enough of it, especially when they were not reaching for the high notes, and speaking, not singing, to follow the personal, and emotional, ups, and downs, of the story, and laugh, and feel sad, at the right points in the tale.
Another thing I enjoyed, because of my love of instrumental classical music, was the piano playing.
A rousing rendition of the music that conveyed the spirit of the action very entertainingly.
All in all, an enjoyable evening, and I think that what they are doing is an excellent way to get more people, especially younger people who think the highest achievement in music is Rap, or Lady Gaga, or the latest Teen Heartthrob, or winner of some TV show competition, interested, and more comfortable, with Opera. :-D
( NOTE: David tells me he may be posting a short video excerpt, off his phone, once he figures out how to download it, so stay tuned, and check back, for a link, here, later in the week...I hope! :-D )
After the performance, everyone gathered in the lobby to chat, and I talked to several of the performers, and Jonathan Cambry, who played the piano.
While most of the small audience in attendance was my age, or older, there was a charming 12-year-old girl, brimming with talent as a singer, and a curiosity that led her to chat with several performers and get encouragement in her talent.
On a final note, Jonathan Cambry helped launch the Sonatasia Project, which fuses architecture and music, in southern California, back in February of 2009.
He and Karrah continue to perform with Sonatasia often, just as my friend David M. Parker (Hat Tip for the above photo of the Cambry's!), an architect by profession, is a friend, and Director/Promoter of Events for, the Project.
I'll let the website explain what they are about:
"SONATASIA is more than a performance...it is a thrilling experience of music, dance, theater, and architecture in a spectacular private home. There is no stage. The entire house is a stage. The performance unfolds all around.
Our concerts combine a variety of disciplines into a dynamic performance which happens all around the space. The "fourth wall" is dissolved. The architecture becomes the theater."
To fully appreciate the experience you are in for by attending an event in person, you can explore their YouTube videos, starting with SONATASIA: The Experience (Directed by Mr. Parker, it features Mr. Cambry on Piano, Peter Chang on Violin, and others.)
Trust me, those videos will blow you away.
It's why I have a link to the Project in my sidebar.
Like the American Chamber Opera, Sonatasia is entertaining and provides much food for thought.
That's All, Folks! :-D
( NOTE: In 2008, and 2009, I was one of the most active, informative, and opinionated, members of an attempt by the Pacific Symphony of Orange County to arouse interest in their performances through reviews by a small collection of the local "Citizen Press", or bloggers. If you enjoyed this review, and want to read similar works of mine, all the related posts can be found in this scrollable archive )
Compliments on the review!